By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – While his backup quarterback position remains unsettled, Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt will no doubt be watching his lines – both of them – when the Rebels conclude spring football drills in the Grove Bowl.
The annual intrasquad game begins at 1 p.m. at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and will be televised on tape-delay at 3 p.m. by CSS.
The offensive and defensive lines have been a story of opposite extremes this spring.
The offensive line was a revolving door of starters through the first half of drills. Different players were used in different roles. Guard Rishaw Johnson and left tackle Bradley Sowell, both sophomores and thought to be leading contenders for starting jobs, were dropped to second team, while younger players were elevated for a time.
The defensive line, though, has remained steady with its starters – junior Kentrell Lockett and senior Marcus Tillman at the ends and juniors Ted Laurent and Lawon Scott at the tackles.
One of spring’s surprises has been junior tackle Jerrell Powe, who has trimmed up and shown the strength and quickness at defensive tackle that arrived with him as part of his legend when his long road to eligibility began back in 2005.
The defensive line was well-stocked last year when the Rebels finished fourth in the nation in rushing defense and No. 1 in tackles for loss.
Much of that production came from departed All-American Peria Jerry, whose leadership must also be replaced.
“Teddy Laurent, Lawon Scott, Jerrell Powe … Those are three really good ones there, and Justin Smith is coming,” Nutt said.
Greg Hardy is also coming. He led the Rebels in sacks with 8.5 in a very limited role last year, his season plagued by a stress fracture in his foot. Further surgery was required, and Hardy missed spring drills but is expected to be full speed for practice in August.
Players speak of a group effort required to replace Jerry’s presence, but they are confident he’ll be replaced.
“We led the nation in tackles for loss last year, and that was not only Peria,” Laurent said. “He had the most, but we did that as a unit. We were back there, and we had tackles for loss, too.”
Piling up the losses
Particularly Lockett, who was second with 11.5 TFLs. Laurent had 7, Tillman – this year’s Chuck Mullins Courage Award winner – had 6.5, and Scott had 2.5.
Powe has pushed Laurent for the starting job at nose tackle. Both should get plenty of snaps.
There appears to be more distance between Scott and Smith, a sophomore who played in 12 games last year, but defensive tackle, a position with depth problems for many years in the past, again has dependable first and second units.
The starters and the staff are hoping for big days from the backups in the Grove Bowl.
“Our coaches want to see a lot of development from the second and third teams, guys like Smith and Gerald Rivers at end,” Scott said. “That’s what I hope we get from this game, more production from them.”
Parrish Alford/Daily Journal